If you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. PaIf you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Panic. Because if you think about it, Panic is The Hunger Games, reverse engineered. Gone is the elaborate make-up and ridiculous hair. Gone are the high concepts of political rebellion and wealth inequality, the elaborate clockwork of machinations designed to strip individuals of their human bond – all these constructs become false, burdensome, over-elaborate metaphor. The Hunger Games is Panic which is, at its heart, a novel about young adults who have nothing, who expect nothing, and who know the world is designed to benefit people whom they will never meet but who most assuredly have more: more opportunity, more wealth, more chances. Panic is a story about us. About bored kids. Broke kids. Broke kids in love, for that matter, whose efforts toward romance are as unsteady as their steps into adulthood. And reading this makes us embarrassed for so loving the unnecessary drama that most YA allows. Because we are Katniss Everdeen only insofar as she is Heather. We shouldn't need so much dressing around the idea that we are a country at a loss of what to do with itself. That we have created so much distance between the possibility of change and its achievement that a game like Panic seems not plausible, but outright familiar. These are memories instead of fantasies, and Panic is a wonderful, brilliant novel with one simple ambition: to remind us who we are. We are the broke kids. The bored kids. Kids trying to feel. Oliver has never needed science fiction to explain how we work. We are more fantastic and flawed and aflame in our small ambitions toward happiness than the rules of science fiction could ever allow. ...more
In drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlIn drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlet, and to scholar Axel Vandel (See:Shroud), John Banville has created another beautiful novel on memory, identity, reflection, power, youth, and love (or sex), as a response to grief. Banville's powerful lines are delivered gently, as if to bloom inside the reader once they've passed his eyes, and I often thought this novel to be a lighter parallel to the brilliant novel, An Adultery. Ancient Light is a an amazing book filled with the truth of experience as expressed through an expert hand....more
If a person should somehow not know anything about America's path to involvement in World War II, there are much worse ways to learn about it than byIf a person should somehow not know anything about America's path to involvement in World War II, there are much worse ways to learn about it than by reading this epic historical novel. Winds is completely successful at capturing, though the Henry family and its closest friends, the gradual enveloping of the world in Germany's aggression. That the story, at over 1,000 pages, remains personal, moving, and tense, despite all our foreknowledge of its outcome, is an accomplishment of the best kind of author. There are passages that leave a reader in shock, and others that carry a foreboding dread.
The story strays from its narrative only to "reprint" excerpts from Victor Henry's [fictional] translations of "World Empire Lost," a German military memoir. These passages give Wouk the opportunity to frame his scene and impart more particular lessons in history to his readers, but they sometimes felt like homework to finish before continuing the novel's main thread.
Nevertheless, this is an amazing novel, with gargantuan ambition, and brilliant for its accomplishment of making a global war feel completely human and deeply personal....more
As with her previous novel, Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has created a story for young adults rich with emotional depth and a sincerity that never rinAs with her previous novel, Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has created a story for young adults rich with emotional depth and a sincerity that never rings false or feels falsely promoted. Whether detailing the friendship between two young women or narrator Lena's unfolding to romantic love, Oliver takes her time to ensure that the scenes arrive with vivid description and an emotional truth. Her recreation of Portland, Maine is detailed enough to inspire readers to scan maps for street names and landmarks, while her take on a future that surgically manipulates the emotional capacity of adults is all too plausible. Delirium may not feel as wrenching as Before I Fall, but it misses none of its depth of craft or obvious love for character....more
As with Lauren Oliver's other books, Pandemonium is emotionally rich and evocatively written, surpassing in quality and sincerity more popular YA noveAs with Lauren Oliver's other books, Pandemonium is emotionally rich and evocatively written, surpassing in quality and sincerity more popular YA novels, including the successful but at times confusing The Hunger Games. Lena's struggle to forget her lover, and her surprise to meet others sympathetic to her plight, tells a story that would be wrenching in any setting, but the futuristic surroundings here serve to alienate readers and characters alike from anything familiar. Alone with Lena, then, the reader discovers that love, so forbidden in the Delirium series, is the only familiar thing to find. That Lena struggles primarily on her own to find acceptance from strangers and a path from grief speaks volumes to her quality, and to her value outside of her relationships with men. The upside-down world that Oliver has created is more believable, more honest, and more valuable to readers than a dozen books that share its dystopian setting. There are lines to read aloud and enough of the intensely personal in Lena's struggles that the empathetic reader may also want to keep a little of it to himself. Incredible....more
Continuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving TrisContinuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving Tris and Four more reasons to distrust, fear, or forsake almost everyone they encounter in author Roth's dystopian Chicago. What's striking is how violent this series remains, with conflicts played out in large scale gun battles and the psychological effects of murder remaining a central conflict in the book. The series is still about identifying boundaries, familial and personal, to the end of creating individuals who better understand their role in a fractured society, but the tones remain dark throughout. The Divergent series is vivid, original, and frighteningly realistic (see also: acceptably cinematic) in its violence -- which either makes this story a stunning parable of modern times, or a set that points too sharp a finger when singling out the ills of our own failures of character....more
The Map of Time appears at first to be a collection of only loosely connected segments with no overriding theme or predictable approach to (whatever)The Map of Time appears at first to be a collection of only loosely connected segments with no overriding theme or predictable approach to (whatever) the subject at hand. Is it a novel of Time Travel? A period romance? Is there larger meaning in its oddly related pieces? The third section, with the help of a few very clever clues placed earlier in the book, finally brings to light the novel's purpose amid a whirlwind of ingenious overlap and crafty surprise. One downside to this construction, however, is that certain concepts pooh-poohed in the first two-thirds create suspicion upon their reappearance. The reader isn't sure who to trust, or for that matter, who is even real. The result is a book that could go one way or the other: its remarkable plotting, populated with terrific characters (Jane Wells steals every scene she's in), makes you wish you felt a greater sense of gravity at novel's end, but at heart, The Map of Time is escapist fare -- well done, but questionably memorable. One saving grace with this edition, however, and what might just push it to four stars here, is that the inclusion of H.G. Wells's original novel, The Time Machine, gives the reader the opportunity to appreciate how skillfully Felix Palma has recreated the tone of the era, and something of Wells's tenor. Then again, at 116, Wells's Time Traveler has put more than one love-letter to bed, even ones as attentive as this....more
Cryer's Cross is most successful when focused on the inner thoughts of Kendall Fletcher, a young Montana teen who happens to be afflicted with ObsessiCryer's Cross is most successful when focused on the inner thoughts of Kendall Fletcher, a young Montana teen who happens to be afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Kendall's OCD fuels many of the insecurities surrounding her college goals, boyfriend troubles, and general desires to fit in, but they can also direct aspirations where Kendall can focus on activities that cleanse her mind of fixations: she's an excellent soccer player, a dedicated friend, and an able dancer. As Kendall's romantic life takes on a complications, readers find her engaging and sincere, and her romantic interest feels natural, genuine, and heartfelt.
Where the novel feels less compelling is in the introduction of the story's darker plot. Ominous interludes designed to heighten the story's tension are more opaque than mysterious, and come so often between chapters that their impenetrable mystery pulls the reader from what is otherwise a very real and human romance. Still, the story's close is effective, and Kendall is a compelling figure who will hopefully reappear soon....more
Jane Austen's six novels have become so commonplace that people have begun to add elements like sea monsters and porn just to keep that ball(room) rolJane Austen's six novels have become so commonplace that people have begun to add elements like sea monsters and porn just to keep that ball(room) rolling. Which is sad because fans of Austen would probably love moving on to the even more tragic and fatally misunderstood emotional outbursts found in Thomas Hardy's novels, Jane's thematic and spiritual progeny. Far from the Madding Crowd is a genuinely great book that mixes the authentic dialogue of rural England with brilliant insights on the human condition at large, and on love, relationships, and marriage, in particular. The book is slow to set its scene, but once it has, readers will find a love quadrangle rife with parties who mesmerize and exasperate alongside the best of Ms. Austen's creations. Who knew wiping away a bit of chalk could be such a understated declaration of love? A very good book, and this B&N ebook edition is very well edited and annotated....more
With cutting humor and sharp insight, Wharton writes a layered novel that will have you despising in turn each of the three parties involved in its ceWith cutting humor and sharp insight, Wharton writes a layered novel that will have you despising in turn each of the three parties involved in its central affair. Likewise, their individual sacrifices -- however much driven by vanity, self-importance, or sincerity -- make Ellen Olenska, Newland Archer, and May Welland complicated, faceted characters who are also strikingly sympathetic; each burdened by a sense of propriety that removes them so far from their own understanding of their needs, the reader probably has as clearer a line of sight on the convoluted motivations leading them to their hearts, if only for the distance. This is a novel too of a lost New York, and a naïvely separatist America, though this novel’s well drawn Puritan ghost still runs, finely shod while scandal hungry, across the continent, in and out of the doors of the nation’s literature, for we are nothing American without the noise of gossip to cover the lusts that we savor. This brilliant novel, with its heartbreaking, soft-handed finale, captures a country we never met, but whose behavior is completely our own. Perfect literature.
For reasons I don’t understand, finishing Persuasion took me about a month longer than it should have, and I’m still not sure I wouldn’t be better serFor reasons I don’t understand, finishing Persuasion took me about a month longer than it should have, and I’m still not sure I wouldn’t be better served now by flipping to the front of the novel and starting again. Perhaps I was simply done in by being overly familiar with Pride and Prejudice and came from that story somehow unprepared for Persuasion’s richer, more complicated, and more honest story of a love long denied. That passion survives time and distance is true enough, but the truth to appreciate is the love “more tender, more tried, ... more justified in acting” once it has seen separation (and perhaps also the eager sway that so easily moves a new love) to an end. There is a story between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth about creating from stifled passion a trust in the future, a truth that encompasses history; it is suggested in faith and may not need expression in detail, but it would be a story to cherish – as familiar as we all are with the failures that set two people apart at start....more
What can be said, in a couple of paragraphs, to stay or support, to any effect, the great swell of love which has buoyed Pride and Prejudice for eleveWhat can be said, in a couple of paragraphs, to stay or support, to any effect, the great swell of love which has buoyed Pride and Prejudice for eleven generations worth of squealing romantics? The truth is, not much. But I did love it: the truth in character; Elizabeth Bennet’s sometimes prescient, sometimes startlingly obtuse internal compass; the letters; the day-long trips to travel thirty miles across the countryside; the novel’s celebration of hard-won, heartfelt love, sometimes seemingly undeserved but never held so aloof as to be ultimately unrewarded.
Love equalizes everything in this world: class, culture, sex, and status. Even the frivolous find something on which to keep themselves afloat. Who wants to find flaws in so simple an idea? Who wants not to believe it? ...more
If you read fiction to escape, then you read literature to fall in love, and with this love collect for your heart the fallible gestures of human judgIf you read fiction to escape, then you read literature to fall in love, and with this love collect for your heart the fallible gestures of human judgment that mark a life as you would know it. The Cry of the Dove creates a woman easy to fall in love with because her life encompasses the most human effort: to stake and bound an identity amid conditions that are powerfully imbalanced, but quietly, lovingly, individual.
The novel is constructed with evocative language and a speech broken only out the narrator’s mouth, for Salma Ibrahim El-Musa, sometimes Sally Asher, is nothing if not honest in the cruelty of her self-image, her Bedouin roots never not on display for judgment by her adopted England. Like her speech, scenes of the narrative are spilled like a bag of stones, skipping from present to past, but orchestrated in a way to muse here on religion, here on birth, here on desire, here on loss.
I don't know what to say that would express why I think this novel is so beautiful, just as I don't know how to encapsulate a life to make it tell as well as it feels. But I am in love with this complicated Salma, as much as with what she would hope to lightly carry as with how steadily she would march toward grace. ...more
One of the questions asked in the beautiful Atonement seems to be, from how much might literature save you? Are its efforts illusionary, and does theOne of the questions asked in the beautiful Atonement seems to be, from how much might literature save you? Are its efforts illusionary, and does the telling of elaborate lies matter to those they might concern when, say, written instead of spoken? Or when the stories in them are actual instead of contrived? Does the form of the fiction, its hieroglyph, make any difference in its weight or meaning or matter? If the atonement here is being made by its narrator – whose revelation of existence in the novel is done perfectly – it becomes the question of a lifetime. But bargains are made with many devils in this book: the lie of the Amo bar, the lie of the marriage, the lie that serves as gravity to all bodies in orbit of this book. (Robbie’s note, in its vulgarity, may be the truest, if least artfully told story here.) At its heart, Atonement is a novel perhaps not of love as it is made (and destroyed, and then reconstructed from the pieces), but of love deserved. And does the deserving, if it does not spare you, save you? Is it so horrible a lie to wish it would?...more
There is something disorienting about reading this book — or perhaps good stories help a reader to draw strong parallels — if you are both with and noThere is something disorienting about reading this book — or perhaps good stories help a reader to draw strong parallels — if you are both with and not with someone. If you are separated by a distance, or by an age, or by years without exposure. There is something disorienting about reading this novel when you live walking distance from its locales and feel yourself a bit lost to time and memory and hope. This is the vanity that fiction allows: that every story is yours. You know the feeling is shallow and false and, maybe, inescapable. And then you realize that perhaps the story that matters most in these dreams of place and person is not the one you read, but the one you want yourself to tell. Maybe what is also true is that the stories you are meant to hear find you when they most need telling, the same way you might, by someone else, so casually, be found. ...more
The Lovers of Algeria is a horrifyingly vivid, achingly tragic novel with, at its core, a fragile and imperfect love story spanning decades of loss, rThe Lovers of Algeria is a horrifyingly vivid, achingly tragic novel with, at its core, a fragile and imperfect love story spanning decades of loss, relocation, and hopeful discovery in its North African setting. The story, told in overlapping flashbacks and contemporary (1997) scenes, is too involved to recite, but it should be enough to say that Anna, a Swiss gaouria, and Arab Nassreddine have an unconventional love affair that begins when they are young adults and continues, or tries to continue, amid four decades of war between European, Algerian, and religious interests. The scenes of conflict are intensely graphic, but Benmalek’s skill as an author is equally as true in crafting scenes of memorable, albeit sad beauty for his cautious but passionate pair; these are the scenes that may — and I am not sure they do — transcend two lives brimmed with disappointment. Love, we hope, can outlast everything, but the scars of destruction this story undresses for us do not fade from memory so easily.